By LARRY VAUGHT
Malik Monk didn’t have to say anything after Friday’s 111-76 win over Tennessee-Martin. His play on the court spoke volumes.
The Kentucky freshman guard had 26 points, seven assists, two rebounds and one steal in 29 minutes. He scored 26 despite going just 2-for-8 from 3-point range.
Monk was not available to the media after his latest performance, but everyone else was talking about him.
“Malik was great tonight. He’s been great a few nights in a row. You see him taking huge strides forward as a basketball player,” said senior teammate Mychal Mulder, who had 12 points. “Great kid, excellent learner, fast learner, super explosive. You see the way he shoots the ball. It’s exciting to see the direction he’s going as a player.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari certainly is enjoying what he is seeing.
“Malik has just gotten better each week. It’s crazy. Now he’s just not shooting 3’s, now he’s running runners to the rim, he’s pulling up, so there was some good stuff there,” Calipari said. “They’re not just coming down jacking 3’s, but you’ve got to play him because he can make that shot.
“Again, he goes 2-for-8 from the three and gets 26. What? Some of them are on breakouts, and there was that one spell where we steal, dunk, steal, dunk, steal, dunk, and I mean, that’s who I hope we are.”
Monk threw down a couple of crowd pleasing dunks in the second half when he had 12 points in about two minutes.
“I wanted to yell at him to windmill or something, but I don’t have to tell him that, obviously. You know you’re going to see something special. Kid is super athletic – one of the more athletic people I know,” Mulder said.
“You know you’re going to see something a little flashy if he’s by himself. You saw him get the first one. The second one he smiled over at us because he knew that we were ready for something. He’s an exciting guy to watch. He’s real fun to watch.”
Senior Dominique Hawkins has played with guards Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, James Young, Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker and Jamal Murray. All are now in the NBA.
Is Monk the most exciting athlete he’s played with at UK?
“I would say he’s probably the most exciting athlete I’ve played with on a team before. He’s just—I don’t know how he blocked that ball (on a lob pass by UT-Martin). He just jumped up there, cuffed it and threw it. You just see him, windmill so lackadaisical. It’s incredible to see a guy like that,” Hawkins said.
“His confidence is high. High to the roof. I know it because in practice he knocks down a lot of shots. And seeing him in games, you can definitely tell he’s having fun. He’s even become a better defender since he’s started.”
Tennessee-Martin coach Anthony Stewart watched Monk play before and noted how much he’s improved his outside shot.
“Right now the way he’s playing, it’s pick your poison. If you play back, he’s hitting the open shot, he’s making 3’s, his midrange is really good, he’s making free throws and obviously he can really get to the bucket,” Stewart said. “So, you have to pick something you want to take away right now when you’re guarding Monk.”
Monk has picked up his scoring the last two games with sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe out with a back injury.
“I don’t really think he’s trying to do that. He’s just going out and playing and he’s just been playing really well right now without Isaiah being here,” Monk said. “He’s very comfortable. His confidence is sky-high right now. He’s shooting the ball really well and he’s getting to the lane.”
Calipari likes one other thing about Monk.
“He went from being an antsy player to being a comfortable player on the court. So he’s still playing fast, but he’s never out of control. Wouldn’t you say? He’s now starting to drive the ball and shoot runners,” Calipari said.
“It just takes time. You’ve got to keep talking about it. Keep stopping them in practice. No, no, no. Then when he does it right, you’ve got to stop and affirm that’s what we want right there. Like today, I just told him he was really good today. Like, holy cow. Like, OK.”